Leonidio, a gorgeous traditional town in Eastern Peloponnese, has become a major climbing area known for well-bolted single pitches and fully bolted, long multi-pitch routes on excellent limestone. Further south, the beautiful seaside village of Kyparissi now has nearly 400 well-protected routes and unlimited tufas.
This essential guide includes 75 crags (51 in the book + 24 extra in the app) with nearly 2500 sport routes for all levels. Developments up to December 2020 are featured, including new crags Geraki Wave, Loupas, Theatro, Yellow Eyes, and Arcadia.
Bonus: Also included are the new crags at Agios Petros and Agios Andreas, two picturesque villages north of Leonidio with perfect rock and unspoilt nature.
This guidebook was made possible by the warm collaboration with the people and municipality of South Kynouria and the Leonidio Association ofLocal Businesses.
This year didn’t go exactly as planned. When we started working on the Leonidio guidebook in 2019, we expected months of fieldwork and longer months at our computers, but we didn’t expect a global pandemic. Nevertheless, keeping ourselves and everybody else safe, we continued to work—even though insecurity about the future often got the best of us.
Leonidio and Kyparissi had both properly appeared in print for the first time in our 2014 "Greece Sport Climbing: The Best Of” guidebook. Since then, and even more so after we expanded the coverage of both in our 2017 edition of “Greece,” we were repeatedly asked by local authorities and business owners to collaborate on a guidebook exclusive to the Leonidio area. The climbing had gained a lot of traction and was clearly adding great value to the community. Kyparissi, too, was coming into its own as a very special, if smaller, destination, one whose development we were actively involved with since day one. For years we hesitated to start this book. But by 2019, the time finally felt right.
There were a couple of reasons for that. Climbing in the area had grown, and was now “mature” enough to warrant its own high-quality guidebook. Furthermore, our involvement with the Leonidio climbing development, maintenance, and community became more active starting in 2016. This led to the formation of a close-knit team of climbers (and now friends) working together. Our collaboration allowed the quality of our fieldwork and the depth of information we collected to meet, if not exceed, the high standards of our guidebooks. Some of these friends are locals; others live in Leonidio part-time, or have relocated there permanently. This collaboration gave us the confidence that we could create a guide to be proud of.
Most of you may associate us with Kalymnos. We would rather simply be associated with Greece, this glorious little country we are lucky enough to call home. Our mission is to help its small communities by doing what we know best: safe, sensible climbing development and effective communication. If our guides demystify Greek climbing and inspire you to book your airfare, then it is mission accomplished.
As for giving back to the community, the Leonidio municipality has committed to using most proceeds from the guidebook for further development and route maintenance. Importantly, this ensures the local authorities will have an ongoing stream of revenue to use for climbing—a low-impact form of tourism which has already added immense value to Leonidio. Soon you will be able to read more about how these proceeds are used on the official climbing site of Leonidio (climbinleonidio.com).
As we prepare this guidebook for production our country has gone back on lockdown. Nobody knows when life will return to normal. But it will. And when it does, the cliffs will be here waiting for you, and us, to meet again under the eternal Greek skies.
Stay safe, surround yourself with good people, and see you soon!
_Aris and Katie_
__The development__ of sport climbing in Leonidio started about a decade ago. In this period, it has grown, gradually and sustainably, to comprise almost 2000 bolted routes for all levels. More than 1500 climbers visit our area every year. This may seem like a small number, but for a town of less than 4000 residents, it is significant. The Municipality of South Kynouria has been there from the start to facilitate, develop, and promote climbing in the area utilizing its full resources. Furthermore, it has hosted some of the best climbers in the world, who, together with the rest of the climbing community, have helped spread the word about Leonidio.
The rocks may well be the main attraction for climbers, but Leonidio has a lot more to offer. It is a traditional seaside town, yes, but with an air of sophistication, a distinct local character, and good vibes that instantly make climbers feel like they belong. It doesn’t take long for first-time visitors to immerse themselves in Leonidian culture, fall in love with the food, connect with locals and live the experience.
The feelings are mutual. For us Leonidians, climbing is no longer an unfamiliar trend, but an integral part of local life. We are excited to learn from climbers, be inspired by their enthusiasm, and—why not—start climbing ourselves. Climbing is fantastic, exhilarating!
Which brings us to the present moment. The Leonidio area is establishing itself as a worldwide climbing destination with exemplary organisation and a climbing infrastructure that keeps improving. The next step for our Municipality was obvious: facilitate the clear communication of all the information climbers need to climb safely, navigate the area effectively, and make the most of their Leonidio experience. To this end, we collaborated with the trusted team of Aris Theodoropoulos and Katie Roussos to create this guide. The goal is to paint as complete a picture as possible, so that climbers can plan ahead, familiarise themselves with all necessary climbing and general info about the area, and get a feel for it and its people. We are very proud of this effort and are confident that all climbers will support it. This will allow us to continue the sustainable development of climbing, and to ensure that it operates smoothly according to the highest safety and quality standards.
Mayor of South Kynouria
- Greece time zone: GMT+2 hrs
- Currency: Euro
- Visa requirements: For EU/Schengen residents, a visa is not required. For non-EU/Schengen residents, a visa may be required depending on the country of origin.
- Language: The Greek language, the alphabet especially, can be intimidating for visitors. Fortunately, the vast majority of road signs are in both Greek and English, and most Greeks speak some English, even if just the basics, as tourism is one of the most important industries in Greece.
__The cliffs of Greece and the Peloponnese__
Greece is renowned for many things: its mythology, its history as the hearth of western civilization, and, for the outdoor person, perhaps it’s mostly known for the sunny climate and crystal clear seas. But in the last couple of decades or so, for its crags too—for Greece has grown to be a premier destination for sport climbers.
Rock climbing was a small but growing activity in Greece in the late twentieth century, with rock climbing at crags such as Meteora’s conglomerate towers and the limestone at Varasova and around Patras growing from a Greek mountaineering tradition. However, Kalymnos, the sport climbers’ holiday destination par excellence, burst onto the scene in the early 2000s and the momentum it created continues to sweep through Greece.
The Peloponnese, the southern peninsula of mainland Greece, claims several advantages in this climbing boom. First, it is easy to get to, since it is mainland Greece and Athens has, of course, an international airport. Second, it’s got rock, and lots of it! With mountains plunging down from 2400m (7800 ft) to reach unspoiled, uncluttered beaches alongside turquoise seas, it is paradise for the visiting climber. Kyparissi, in particular, on the east coast of the Peloponnese, is one of the most beautiful of its special corners.
The largest concentration of climbs, with more than 2000 routes already equipped, lies in a 50km strip along the sheltered east coast of the Peloponnese; this is the Leonidio–Kyparissi region, a climbing destination that is now being spoken of as Europe’s premier winter “climbing park.” The remaining potential along this coastal strip is astounding. And there’s a special buzz about these developments. It’s not just that there are lots of new routes, easy and hard, for international climbers to enjoy, exciting though that may be. There’s also something unique about this part of the world and the way that the people of the eastern Peloponnese have greeted their new visitors.
Jim Thornburg, the world-traveling climbing photographer, describes this special feeling well:
“Greek hospitality is a real thing. It extends into the way many Greeks approach climbing, in that hospitality and inclusiveness are key parts of how they develop climbing areas. Hard, scary routes are valued, but high-quality easier routes are valued even more and are bolted for the people who will climb them the most. They are also bolted in consideration of the local businesses and municipalities who might benefit from climbing tourism. The result is a community that includes climbers of all ages and abilities but also extends to the people in the surrounding villages. The recent Kyparissi Climbing Festival was a perfect example of the synergy going on here. At the events’ dinner… climbers and townspeople mingled and danced into the night, united by the surrounding walls of perfect limestone. It’s so amazingly different than the elitist, separatist, egotistical approach to climbing that I grew up with climbing in the 80s...”
__Getting to Leonidio and Kyparissi__
Travel to this part of the Peloponnese is relatively straightforward, but it is not a destination quickly reached. The journey there, though, is undoubtedly part of the experience.
By air, Athens International Airport connects to most parts of the world. From the airport, a rental car (or the X93 bus into Athens followed by a KTEL long-distance bus) will get you to Leonidio in 3 to 5 hours. To reach Kyparissi, a rental car is needed. In the warmer half of the year, flights go from some European destinations to the closer airport of Kalamata (about 2.5 hours to Leonidio or Kyparissi).
Most of those driving to Greece will enter by ferry from Italy, or overland, most likely through Bulgaria into northern Greece. From western and northern Europe, most will take a ferry across the Adriatic from either Ancona, Bari, or Brindisi in Italy to either Patras or Igoumenitsa in western Greece. The Ancona-Patras ferry crossing, the longest (24 hours), costs little more than the shorter routes when additional motorway tolls and fuel are taken into consideration.
More explicit travel details are provided in the introductions to Leonidio and Kyparissi, respectively.
__Climate and climbing seasons__
The eastern Peloponnese has a typical Mediterranean climate with four distinct seasons: long, hot, dry summers, mild winters with some rain, and absolutely delightful springs and autumns, with many days of sunshine and warm temperatures. Many of the crags in this area enjoy the benefits of being in a coastal sunshine belt.
Summer temperatures normally range from the upper 20s to mid/high 30ºC (80–90ºF), and in mid-winter between 8-15ºC (45–60ºF). Temperatures in the shade can feel much cooler, especially in winter. Snow has been rare in recent years other than on the higher hills inland. Although the annual total rainfall at Leonidio is around 500mm, peaking in November, most of this comes in brief but sharp bursts; long, dry periods in winter are not unusual.
This guidebook features sport crags with mostly single pitches, though there are several outstanding multi-pitch and a few mixed-style (sport/trad) routes too.
The Leonidio-Kyparissi area encompasses around 70 different limestone crags with a broad range of grades (F4 to F9a) and character. They range from multi-colored tufa caves and overhangs, to massive horizontally-banded red rock escarpments, to classic grey slabs. A few crags face north, but many face south.
This guidebook describes 51 of the most important crags, and the accompanying app covers the rest of the area’s climbing (plus any new developments).
__Finding the crags__
Each crag in the book has GPS coordinates for the parking areas in decimal degree format (e.g. 36.957351, 22.986013). The Mt Parnon/Parnonas map by Anavasi (anavasi.gr) covers the whole area at 1:50.500 scale.
__Gear for climbing in the East Peloponnese__
The standard single rope length for climbing in the East Peloponnese is at least 60m but, with all the remarkably long routes (35-40m) equipped in recent years, a longer rope is highly recommended. An 80m rope will suffice for virtually all the longer routes or extensions in the area.
Sport routes in the East Peloponnese are generally well-bolted. Normally, 15-25 quickdraws (QDs) will suffice, but of course this depends on the route length.
A useful rule of thumb is to take:
- 10-15 quick-draws on routes between 20-30m
- 15-18 quick-draws on routes between 30-35m 20-25 quick-draws on routes around 40m long If a route or sector is - unusually runout, this will usually be mentioned in the route/sector description.
Sport routes in Greece are graded according to the French grading system (see table on the back flap). Considerable efforts have been made toward consistent grading; however, since routes have been put up by climbers from all over the world (and some of these routes have yet to see their second ascent), some grades may still need treating with caution.
__Kids at the crag__
Kids are always at risk of serious injury or even death from falling or ricocheting rock, even when wearing helmets or standing clear of the routes. In many crags in Greece, goats walking above the cliffs can dislodge rocks without warning, and wind or rain can also dislodge stones. In this guidebook, there is indication of the “kid-friendliness” of each crag, but remember: your children are your responsibility, and the decision to bring them to the crag is ultimately yours.
• Park your vehicles sensibly (even if it means parking further and walking more), and remove all valuables from your car. Please don’t obstruct local drivers’ access to their homes, farms, or private property.
• Follow established approach paths. Don’t try to take shortcuts through private property or wild areas. Shortcutting zigzags can lead to erosion.
• Mind your manners at the crag! Don’t play music, yap on the phone, let your dog sit on others’ ropes or your kids run around screaming. It is annoying and, at worst, a dangerous distraction.
• Use a brush or old toothbrush to clean your chalk marks when you are finished climbing a route.
• Leave no trace. Collect all waste before leaving the crag, including scraps “accidentally” left by others.
• Don't smoke next to other climbers. Pick up your cigarette butts: cigarette filters take decades to degrade, their toxic residue is damaging to the environment, and littered butts cause numerous fires every year, some fatal. (Source: cigarettelitter.org)
• Don't poop at the crag. Go far away (at least 100m from the crag… not on or near the approach path!). If possible, dig a small hole. Put your toilet paper/tampon/sanitary pad in a plastic bag and take it with you. Cover the hole with dirt and/or stones.
__Equipping new routes__
In November 2016, the Hellenic Federation of Mountaineering and Climbing (EOOA) issued a set of guidelines to follow when equipping and re-bolting climbing routes, with the aim of helping the equippers and ensuring hardware is up to standard. A condensed and simplified English version can be found on climbkalymnos.com/climbing.
If you are interested in equipping new routes, please conform to these guidelines and notify the local authorities in advance. Please do so by emailing [email protected]
For Leonidio, you can also contact the authorities via climbinleonidio.com.
Several climbing guides operate out of Leonidio – see advertisements.
__Environment and wildlife__
Mountainous country extends from the high peaks of the Parnon range all the way down to the east coast of the Peloponnese. So it is unsurprising that a coastal road to Leonidio from the north wasn’t constructed until 1957. Until then, Leonidio remained in splendid isolation, accessible only by boat or mountain tracks and, owing to this isolation, the original ancient Doric language, Tsakonian, is still spoken by some local people. It is the only living language to descend from Doric Greek and is entirely different from the standard “modern” Greek. It has nearly died out, and is only being kept alive by a handful of mostly elderly Leonidians.
The Parnon mountain range rises to 1935m (6348ft) above sea level. It is a designated Greek National Park with areas within it protected under the Natura 2000 European program. The highest peaks offer superb views to the Argolis peninsula and the nearest Aegean islands across the Myrtoan Sea to the east. Over to the west are the even higher Taygetos mountains. Open dry grasslands on the summits give way to black pine and Cephalonian fir at around 1750m (5740ft). Below the pine forests, and in some very special areas (usually on schists and silica-rich rock), are forests of edible chestnut, although on the drier plateaus are prickly juniper bushes, small Kermes oak, wild olive, thyme, sage, rock rose (Cistus) and other thorny, spiky scrub (known, collectively, in Greece as phrygana). This sclerophyllous vegetation, with its small, hard, waxy leaves, is well suited to retain moisture during the dry Mediterranean summers. Goat farming prevails in these areas. In gullies and river beds, for example in the Upper Dafnon gorge, colorful though poisonous oleander bushes thrive. Even lower, the hillsides towards the coast have taller, more dense woodland, with the occasional sentinel-like stand of tall cypress, though much of this woodland has been cleared to make way for olive groves as well as carob and almond trees. Owing to the steep hillsides, donkeys are still used in some areas to help with crop gathering. The most fertile and flat areas, notably the plain between Leonidio town and the sea, are intensively farmed with glasshouses and polytunnels where eggplants, zucchini, tomatoes, and other produce is grown. The vegetables and fruit in Leonidio’s shops are fresh and of exceptional quality.
With such a wide range of environments, one might reasonably expect to see a wide variety of wildlife. In the skies, of the larger birds, buzzards, raven, and short-toed eagles are perhaps the most common. In addition to kestrels and peregrines, other raptors you might see are Bonelli’s eagle and the elegant Eleonora’s falcon taking opportunity
to feast on the migratory passage of smaller birds in late summer/early autumn. A golden eagle may be spotted deeper into the mountains. Swifts, crag martins, and a host of smaller, scrub-inhabiting birds are too numerous to mention and will be left for the ornithologically inclined to discover.
Of the animals, perhaps the most iconic is the tortoise (or the wild goat?) that can be spotted ambling over stony ground or across the road (look out!). Of interest amongst the smaller mammals is the beech marten, an omnivorous and largely nocturnal creature (somewhat larger than a squirrel). However, the most amazing sighting would be a golden jackal—a real rarity.
This is Greece, so there are snakes. Most are shy and harmless and will do their best to get out of your way (but be alert in long grass or amidst stone ruins). The far, far, less common nose-horned viper or horned viper (ohia in Greek) is venomous. If bitten, an urgent visit to the Health Center in Leonidio is advised.
In the seas, dolphins and sea turtles (including the loggerhead turtle) may been seen. Less likely to be spotted is the monk seal, with only an estimated 300 left in the Aegean. Both species have been observed along the quieter coasts around sector Kápsala.
Overall, the east coast of the Peloponnese has very high biodiversity and is home to some unique plants such as Centaurea leonidia, a pink-flowering, thistle-like perennial herb, which is currently only known on rock faces at Sintza, Pounta, and Kokkinóvrachos. Climbers, avoid any “gardening” of these species.
__Rest day activities__
The beach is the obvious choice. Swimming is still reasonably on the cards even in November.
There are many beautiful monasteries in the area, often in stunning locations. If you visit any of them—too many to mention in detail here—be thoughtful and respectful in terms of dress and behavior.
For those with energy to spare after climbing, there are mountain paths to follow, often along ancient stone-edged or cobbled kalderimi passing through unlikely terrain. A reasonably detailed 1: 50.500 scale map by Anavasi (Parnonas/Mt Parnon) is available in Leonidio, though many of the more interesting paths are not yet shown. Guided hikes for all abilities can be arranged through the small, friendly local company, Greece on Foot (greeceonfoot.com), based in nearby Tyrós. Wendy Copage, the owner, is one of the most experienced and knowledgeable mountain walkers in the region. In Leonidio, you can also try walk4fun.gr.
In the Kyparissi area there are several superb hiking trails on Mount Hionovouni, the view of the Myrtoan Sea a constant companion. Detailed information and a free hiking map can be found on the website of the Municipality of Monemvasia (monemvasia.gr) under “Watersports and Outdoor Activities,” then under “Nature Hikes.” With a car, a world-class choice of classical Greek sites from the Bronze Age onwards can be visited. For example, to the west is the Byzantine site Mystrás, above Sparta; to the south, the historic island-village of Monemvasia; and to the north, around Napflion, a whole host of major locations such as the World Heritage Site of Mycenae, plus the magnificent ancient theater at Epidauros. A useful resource for visitors keen to visit these significant sites is Archaeological Sites of the Peloponnese (aspel.gr)
fdparnonas.gr (Nature and environment)